(This 879th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on January 27, 2008.)
Canoes and Kayaks at the Nature Ed-Venture Camp on Raquette Lake
Judy Thaler and Wayne Robins were education staff leaders of the Buffalo Museum of Science until that institution cleared out its talent and energy four years ago and in the process nearly wiped out its education program.
Their outdoor education activities having been one of the museum's sources of operating income, the two simply established their own private company, Nature Ed-Ventures, to continue the former museum activities on their own.
I have known Thaler and Robins for many years and hold them in high regard. Both are fine naturalists but they play well defined roles in their operation. Thaler is in charge of logistics and manages all administrative aspects of the business. A University at Buffalo business administration graduate, she brings this background to her tasks.
Robins is the senior educator who communicates natural history concepts effectively and in ways that involve their participants. A youngster who spent most of his hours in the wildlands around his childhood home in Westfield, his devotion to science caught the attention of his high school biology teacher who invited him to learn taxidermy. Robins jumped at the chance and this led to his first museum position. He was hired in 1965 as a taxidermist, in that and other roles contributing significantly to the museum's collections, but his interest and involvement in teaching over his 39 years at the museum led him finally to join the education department.
The range of activities Nature Ed-Ventures sponsors is broad. Each year they host a series of weekend programs at Camp Allegany, one of the residential areas of Allegany State Park. These include a series of activities focusing on the production of maple syrup. They offer school and home-schooling programs that include classroom presentations, day long whole school programs, after school and evening sessions for students and their families, and camping trips. They also schedule programs for scouts and community groups and even occasionally offer longer tours to places as far away as the Arctic.
I like their statement of principles: Theirs is "an organization dedicated to life-long learning in, for and about natural and cultural history. We strive to promote outdoor education by advancing awareness, knowledge and skills through education so that people may develop an appreciation of nature, its surrounding environment and cultural history. Additionally we are committed to excellent service, content-rich programs and fair pricing."
Nature Ed-Ventures participants and staff at the Adirondack Museum
One of the Nature Ed-Venture programs I find quite remarkable. It is their annual program for women only. This year's event, titled "Life in the Woods: The Natural and Cultural History of the Adirondacks", is scheduled for Cortland State College's Outdoor Education Center on Raquette Lake in Adirondack State Park from Sunday, July 27 to Friday, August 1.
This will be an active week. It will include a behind-the-scenes visit to the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake led by the curators of the museum's 50th anniversary exhibit, "Nature's Art." A morning will be spent in Ferd's Bog, an area I have visited many times, each time finding new plants and birds. It is a place where pitcher plants abound and where gray jays, boreal chickadees, three-toed woodpeckers and Lincoln's sparrows are to be found.
On a previous trip there Robins told me he turned to warn those following him out onto the bog to watch for green areas because those could give way. As he did so, he inadvertently stepped forward into one of those sinks and the next thing he knew he was looking up at his companions. They had to pull him out for he had gone waist deep into the underlying water. "I call that teaching by demonstration," he told me.
On this trip participants will also boat around Raquette Lake on the cruiser W. W. Durant and they will later ride a horse-drawn wagon to visit one of the grandest of the region's lodges, Camp Santanoni. Between canoeing and kayaking the more energetic will also hike to the summit of Blue Mountain.
All Nature Ed-Ventures activities are managed out of a small office on Elmwood Avenue. Anyone interested in joining the Adirondack trip or in hearing about other activities should call 479-9190, e-mail the office at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website, www.natureed-ventures.com.